Pandemic response has highlighted the value of local food, says Norfolk farming leader

NFU Norfolk chairman Nick Deane says the coronavirus crisis has proved the value of local food and f

NFU Norfolk chairman Nick Deane says the coronavirus crisis has proved the value of local food and farming. Picture: Chris Hill. - Credit: Chris Hill

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the true value of local food says NICK DEANE, Norfolk branch chairman for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

We have all felt the immediate effects of Covid-19. All industries are trying to find a way forward through this pandemic, but agriculture has a unique set of challenges to overcome.

There is no ability to put food production on “hold” or “pause” until more normal times return. You can’t furlough a cow or pause a malting barley crop from growing nor, consequently, can you furlough the people who look after them.

The waste of milk being poured away while shops were rationing customers was not only unintelligible to the customer but also heart-breaking, and financially crippling, for the farmers involved.

The overnight closure of the hotel and hospitality sector caused major disruption to those who supply it. Potato farmers supplying fish and chip shops, or the frozen chip processors, now have stores of good potatoes unsold and many have been asked to grow reduced areas this year until stores of frozen chips are used up. The meat supply chain has been similarly disrupted in all cases.

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Amid these challenges, the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of food security and reminded the public about the value of local food. Norfolk’s butchers, farm shops and local doorstep deliveries have seen a huge increase in demand and we hope this trend will continue.

Farmers have welcomed people’s re-connection with food and their interest in what they eat and where it comes from. We are proud that we produce food to high safety, welfare and environmental standards, and it has given us a chance to explain what we do.

READ MORE: Can East Anglia’s farming industry emerge stronger from the coronavirus crisis?

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Encouragingly, a recent poll discovered that 51pc of respondents felt Britain’s ability to produce its own food had become more important. The same poll suggested 28pc of respondents had a more favourable view of British farming.

Looking forward, we must all learn from the exposed weaknesses of our “just in time” supply chain, and work for a more resilient system, based on high standards, with domestic production at its core.

And, as farmers, we must continue to earn the public’s trust and confidence so they continue to seek out our traceable, safe food.

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